Westminster Abbey is important for many reasons when it comes to London’s musical heritage but among them is the intrinsic connection the grand building has with Restoration-era composer and musician Henry Purcell.
Purcell, who was born in Westminster in 1659 and who died there in 1695, is famous for having composed music in a range of genres including the first English opera as well as being the organist of the Westminster Abbey (from 1679) and that of the Chapel Royal (from 1682).
Fittingly, Purcell, who died at the age of just 36 leaving a widow and six children behind, was buried beside where the organ was then located in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. The grave, which also contains the remains of his wife Frances, is inlaid with brass letters written in Latin.
It reads: “Here rests Henry Purcell, Organist of this Collegiate Church. Died 21 November aged 37, A.D. 1695. Immortals, welcome an illustrious guest, your gain, our loss – yet would not earth reclaim the many-sided master of his art, the brief delight and glory of his age: great Purcell lives! his spirit haunts these aisles, while yet the neighbouring organ breathes its strains, and answering choirs worship God in song. Frances, wife of Henry Purcell, is buried near her husband 14 February 1706.”
A memorial tablet to Purcell was erected on a nearby wall by Dame Annabella Howard, a former pupil of Purcell’s. The inscription in English and Latin “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Died 21 of November in the 37th year of his age, AD 1695”.
There is also an elaborate statue, The Flowering of the English Baroque, commemorating Purcell located just down the road from the Abbey in Christchurch Gardens, Broadway. Designed by sculptor Glynn Williams, it was unveiled by Princess Margaret on the tercentenary of the death of the composer – 22nd November 1995.
John Brodie Donald, the creator of the Lost London Churches Project, talks about how the project came about, its aim and his personal favourite “lost” church…
1. First up, when you talk about London’s “lost churches”, what do you mean by the expression? “Of the 108 churches in the City of London in 1600 only 39 remain. The rest have been lost in the last 350 years, either destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 or in the Blitz or demolished by commercial developers as property prices soared.”
2. What is the aim of the Lost London Churches Project? “The Lost London Churches Project aims to promote interest in the ancient church buildings and parishes of the City of London through collectable cards, books, maps and downloadable explorers walks. We have created a ecclesiastical treasure hunt – a way of exploring the history of the square mile that costs nothing and can be easily fitted into a few spare lunchtimes.”
3. How many churches are included in the project? “There are 78 churches for which collectable cards have been produced and these are available in a growing number of churches in the City. It is hard to find evidence of what the churches lost in the fire of 1666 looked like, but hopefully after further research these will be included in a second edition. “
4. Does the project cover every “lost” church in the City of London? “It covers not just ‘lost’ churches but also the extant ones for two reasons. First, because those who are collecting the cards need a place to pick them up which they can do in the churches that still exist. Secondly, although the church buildings were lost, the parishes still remain to this day for administrative reasons. Every one of the 109 churches still has a parish clerk. The parishes have been amalgamated with the existing churches. So, for example, St Vedast in Foster Lane is a church of 13 united parishes having acquired them as the church buildings were lost over the centuries.”
5. Tell us how the Lost London Churches Project came about? “It all started when I was redrawing the Ogilby and Morgan map of 1676 in colour for my own pleasure. This large scale map (100 feet the inch) shows every single house in the City of 350 years ago. It was completed just after the Great Fire and so shows the location of all the lost churches clearly. The original covered 20 separate black and white sheets but I redrew them all joined together in colour on my computer. The end result was so huge it was impractical to print…So it made sense to break it up and publish in a book, and since the most interesting information in the map was the churches lost in the fire. it became the basis for the collectors book for the Lost London Churches project. At the same time, I was going through my late father’s papers and found a booklet of cigarette cards that he had collected in the 1940s. He also had a passion for painting watercolours of churches. That’s when I had the idea of producing a series of ‘cigarette cards’ showing the lost churches and the project was born.”
6. What’s the role of the cards? “The role of the cards is to give some tangible treasure to collect while exploring the lost churches. Like trading cards or Pokemon the challenge is – can you collect them all? In every participating church you will be able to pick up that church’s card along with a pack of five random cards for a small voluntary donation. Cards are also available from the project’s website lostlcp.com.”
7. You mentioned earlier that there were a number of ways the City of London’s churches become lost? “They were lost in three phases. Around 85 were destroyed or damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 of which 34 were never rebuilt. The others were rebuild by Christopher Wren, along with St Pauls Cathedral. Then 26 more churches were lost after the Union of Benefices Act of 1860 triggered a second wave of demolition. The purpose of the act was to combine parishes and free up space for the swelling capital of the British Empire. Lastly, the City suffered badly in the Blitz of World War II which took a further toll on these ancient buildings.”
8. How easy is it to spot remnants of the City’s lost churches? “Though the buildings are lost, the parishes remain and you can still see the old parish boundary markers even on modern buildings. The best place to see an example of these is to walk down Cheapside along the New Change shopping centre towards the church of Mary le Bow. In only 100 or so yards you will have crossed the boundaries of five different parishes; St Vedast Foster Lane, St Matthew Friday Street, St Peter Westcheap, All Hallows Bread Street and St Mary Magdalene Milk Street. As you walk down the street look up above the shops ( see picture below) and you will see little plaques marking these parish boundaries. These type of parish boundary markers are scattered throughout the City. Our downloadable explorers walks on Google Maps available (for free) on our website lostlcp.com will show you some routes to find them. There is also a A4 sized map of the ancient parishes we have published for you to use as a guide.”
9. Have you uncovered any particularly interesting stories in your research into London’s lost churches? “I think one the most interesting things is the unusual names and how they were derived: Benet Fink, Stephen Coleman, Mary Somerset, Martin Ludgate and Gabriel Fenchurch. Couldn’t these be the names in an Agatha Christie mystery where the key to the murder is church themed aliases? But seriously, every church has a rich history since most were established before 1200 so in visiting them you are trekking right back to medieval times.”
10. And lastly, do you have a favourite “lost” London church? “My favourite is St Mary Abchurch just off Cannon Street. It is not only the headquarters of the ‘Friends of the City Churches’ charity but also a perfect jewel of a Wren church with the most glorious painted ceiling – like a secret Sistine chapel!”
• A lost medieval sacristy used by Westminster Abbey’s monks in the 13th-century which has been revealed in the abbey grounds has been opened to the public. A visit to the dig uncovering the former sacristy is one of the stops on new ‘Hidden Highlights’ tours which also take in other areas not usually open to the public including the Jerusalem Chamber where King Henry IV died in 1413 and, the Library, formerly part of the monk’s dormitory which features a 15th century oak roof and 17th century bookcases (pictured above). The tour, which finishes in the Diamond Jubilee Galleries which have been closed since the start of the pandemic, is part of a summer of events at the abbey which also includes open air cinema, visits to the abbey after dark, live music performances and a chance to look behind the scenes at the abbey’s role in the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-news/lost-medieval-sacristy-opens-to-public-for-summer-festival-of-events.
• A new exhibition looking at the central role food plays in Black entrepreneurship and identity in the city’s south east has opened at the Museum of London Docklands.Feeding Black: Community, Power & Place puts four businesses in the spotlight – Livity Plant Based Cuisine in Croydon, Woolwich businesses African Cash & Carry and Junior’s Caribbean Stall, and Zeret Kitchen in Camberwell – and tells their stories through objects, recipes and videos as well as newly commissioned photography by Jonas Martinez and original oral histories and soundscapes by Kayode ‘Kayodeine’ Gomez. The free display can be seen until 17th July next year in the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• Ride the dodgems at Somerset House.Dodge, described as a “thrilling open air experience” that takes an “inventive twist on the traditional fairground”, features dodgem cars and installations from acclaimed artists as well as food and drink and DJ sets. The event runs until 22nd August. There is free entry to the site but charges apply for the dodgem rides. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk. The event is part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, described as the “biggest domestic tourism the capital has ever seen”.
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This hill in the city’s north rises 136 metres (446 feet) above sea level and is said to take its name from a tollgate the Bishop of London once erected on the summit.
The hill, which stands to the northeast of the expansive Hampstead Heath and south of Highgate Wood, is topped by Highgate Village, long a fashionable residential district which features some significant 18th century buildings. It boasts views of central London.
Landmarks include the famous Highgate Cemetery – resting place to everyone from Karl Max to George Eliot and Douglas Adams – and the Highgate School, established on 1565 to educate the poor and now a rather exclusive – and expensive – establishment (the school, incidentally, was built on the site of an earlier hermitage). TS Eliot was a former master there and students included Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman.
Other buildings of note include The Flask pub, St Michael’s Church (dating from 1831) and St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (dating from 1888).
Famous residents have included Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (he was originally buried in a crypt below the school’s chapel but his remains were relocated to St Michael’s Church in 1961) while 16th and early 17th century philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon died in what was then called Arundel House (now The Old Hall) in 1626. Classical scholar and poet AE Housman’s former house at 17 North Road is marked with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.
Highgate Hill is also famous for being where, so the story goes, Dick Whittington, who was accompanied by his cat, heard the Bow bells and felt called back to London (there’s a monument to Whittington and his cat close to the bottom of Highgate Hill Road).
This hill in outer north-west London, which rises 124 metres (408 feet) above sea level, is the location of the village Harrow-on-the-Hill.
The hill’s name is said to refer to a Saxon place of worship and was later taken to mean the Christian church that stood upon it.
That church – the historic St Mary’s, the latest incarnation of a Christian church which has stood on the hill since the Norman Conquest – dominates the hill to this day. Nearby is a spot called King Charles’ Well where King Charles I is said to have stopped and taken one last look at London as he made his way from Oxford to surrender to the Scottish army in Nottinghamshire.
The other famous landmark atop the hill, opposite the church, is the world renowned Harrow School, founded under a Royal Charter by John Lyon in 1572, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
The hill is also host to a Grade II-listed war memorial and a fine array of historic homes dating from the Georgian period to the early 20th century. Among this who have lived on the hill are 19th. century critic and writer Matthew Arnold and 19th century Scottish author RM Ballantyne.
Panoramic views of Central London can be seen from the top of the hill and there is a famous viewpoint in the churchyard known as Lord Byron’s View, which looks away to the north-west. It’s so-called because Byron, while a schoolboy at Harrow, was a frequent visitor to the spot by a tombstone – called the “Peachy Tomb”- where he would apparently spend time “dreaming”.
The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.
In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.
Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.
Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.
These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).
The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.
• English Heritage – which manages a number of historic properties in London including Eltham Palace, Kenwood House and Marble Hill House – has announced they will reopen progressively from 29th March. Initially only the grounds of more than 60 properties across England will be open with building interiors to open from 17th May. A summer events programme is scheduled to start on 21st June. Visits must be booked in advance and the organisation has asked that people bear in mind the government’s latest advice, and be aware that they shouldn’t travel outside of your local area. For a full list of properties that are reopening, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/plan-your-visit/.
• It’s a unique place to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The NHS announced this week that a new COVID-19 vaccination clinic has opened in Westminster Abbey’s South Transept, home to Poet’s Corner. Run by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, on behalf of the local GP network, the location is expected to provide up to 2,000 inoculations each week. The clinic is only open for those with an appointment. Invitation letters will explain how people can book a slot and NHS leaders are urging people not to turn up at the centres without an appointment.
• A fragment of a meteorite which was located in Gloucestershire after recently falling to Earth in a rather spectacular fireball has been brought to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. The 300 gram chunk of meteorite, which is known as a carbonaceous chondrite, was discovered on a driveway in the Cotswold town on Winchcombe. It’s path tracked by specialised cameras across the country as part of the UK Fireball Alliance, the meteorite was retrieved in such a good condition and so quickly after its fall that scientists say it is comparable to the samples returned from space missions, both in quality and size. Other pieces of the meteorite have also been recovered in the area. The rare meteorite – it is the first known carbonaceous chondrite to have been found in the UK and the first meteorite to be recovered in the UK in 30 years – will now undergo further study.
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High profile and influential though he was during his lifetime – serving as Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury, it was the brutal and shocking nature of Thomas Becket’s death that ensured he would be remembered down through the ages.
Already strained, relations between King Henry II and Becket took a further downturn after the Archbishop excommunicated Roger de Pont L’Évêque, the Archbishop of York, Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of London, and Josceline de Bohon, the Bishop of Salisbury, thanks to their role in crowning Henry, the Young King, in York, without the Archbishop’s permission.
On hearing the news of the excommunication, King Henry II is said to have uttered those immortal words, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” (although there is considerable dispute over exactly what he said – contemporary biographer (and Canterbury monk) Edward Grim, for example, has the quote as: “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?”).
Whatever the exact words, the King’s utterance – made while he was at Bur-le-Roi near Bayeaux in modern France – was interpreted as a command by four knights who were present – Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton. Leaving the castle, they set out for England to confront the Archbishop.
The knights arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, and informed Becket that he was commanded to go to Winchester to answer for his actions. Becket refused and the knights, retrieving weapons and armour they had stashed outside the cathedral, returned to the cathedral and hunted down Becket (who had apparently ordered the doors to remain open) with swords in their hands.
They found him at a door to the cloister near the stairs leading up to the cathedral quire where monks were chanting vespers. Becket is reported to have said “I am no traitor and I am ready to die” before one of the knights tried to pull him inside. Grabbing a pillar, he refused to go. The knights then struck him with a series of blows on the head which proved fatal.
A modern memorial to Becket which features a statue depicting him lying back with his hand raised as though to ward off blows as he is attacked, is located in St Paul’s Churchyard. The statue, which is made from resin coloured to appear as bronze, is the work of Bainbridge Copnall and was created in 1970 as part of commemorations marking 800 years since his death. It was acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1973.
It was damaged by a falling cherry tree in 1987 but was restored by a student of Copnall.
Around 1145, Thomas Becket left the household of the financier Osbert Huitdeniers and entered the household of Theobold, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
It’s unclear how he made the transition, although it has been speculated it was possibly through family connections, but by the following year, he was well-ensconced as a clerk in the archbishop’s household.
Like many great households, the Archbishop’s moved between various residences including his palace beside Canterbury Cathedral, various manors and the royal court (Lambeth Palace, the current home of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London was constructed after Becket’s death).
Becket rose in the Archbishop’s favour and while serving in his household was given the living of churches including St Mary le Strand in London and Otford in Kent as well as being made a canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (he wasn’t expected to attend the churches to receive the incomes).
The current St Mary le Strand dates from the early 18th century; the church from which Thomas drew an income was an earlier versions and stood a little to the south of the current building.
St Paul’s, meanwhile, was an early version of the pre-Great Fire of London version of the building. During Becket’s time, the grand structure was still under construction (building had been disrupted by a fire in 1135 and the cathedral wasn’t consecrated until 1240, well after Becket’s death).
The present cathedral has a rather spectacular statue of Becket in the churchyard (but we’ll deal with that separately in a later post in this series).
St Luke’s briefly stood on Euston Road before, thanks to the growing demands of the railways, it was demolished and subsequently rebuilt, brick-by-brick in Wanstead.
Designed by John Johnson (one of the architects of St Paul’s Church, Camden Square), this church was erected on the corner of Euston and Midland Roads between 1856 and 1861. It replaced a temporary iron church which had been erected on the site in the early 1850s.
But the construction in the mid-1860s of St Pancras railway station by the Midland Railway – and the compulsory acquisition of the land – meant the church had to be removed.
While the congregation, compensated with some £12,500 by the railway company, relocated to Kentish Town, the church building itself was sold to another congregation for £500.
Demolished, it was subsequently transported to Wanstead where it was it was rebuilt in 1866-67, with some alterations by Johnson who oversaw the process.
Now the Wanstead United Reformed Church (it changed denominations), it was designated a Grade II-listed building in 2009, partly due to it being one of few examples of a church which has been moved and substantially reconstructed to its original form by the original architect.
Of medieval origins,the Church of St Antholin, which stood on the corner of Sise Lane and Budge Row, had been a fixture in the City of London for hundreds of years before it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
Rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren, it survived until 1874 when it was finally demolished to make way for Queen Victoria Street.
But, while the building itself was destroyed (and we’ll take a more in-depth look at its history in an upcoming article), a section of Wren’s church does still survive – the upper part of his octagonal spire (apparently the only one he had built of stone).
This was replaced at some stage in the 19th century – it has been suggested this took place in 1829 after the spire was damaged by lightning although other dates prior to the church’s demolition have also been named as possibilities.
Whenever its removal took place, the spire was subsequently sold to one of the churchwardens, an innovative printing works proprietor named Robert Harrild, for just £5. He had it re-erected on his property, Round Hill House, in Sydenham.
Now Grade II-listed, the spire, features a distinctive weathervane (variously described as a wolf’s head or a dragon’s head). Mounted on a brick plinth, it still stands at the location, now part of a more modern housing estate, just off Round Hill in Sydenham.
Dating possibly from as far back as the early medieval period, this royal lodging once stood in the City of London.
The building, which has been described variously as a palace as well as a strongly defended tower house, was located in the parish of St Michael Paternoster and gave its name – Tower Royall – to the street in which it was located (now long gone).
It has been suggested the property could date from as far back as the reign of King Henry I in the early 12th century and it has also been said that King Stephen is said to have lodged there later that same century (although some put the origins a bit later, possibly in the reign of King Edward I, who ruled from 1272 to 1307).
It was apparently in the possession of King Edward III in 1320 – he is said to have granted it to his wife, Queen Phillippa, who enlarged it and established her wardrobe there (hence it was sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen’s Wardrobe’).
On Queen Phillippa’s death, the king is said to have granted it to the Dean and Canons of Westminster but by 1371 it was apparently back in royal hands – Joan of Kent, the mother of the future King Richard II was living there at that time (Richard when king, apparently rode there to tell her of the suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381).
It is said to have been given to the Duke of Norfolk by his friend, King Richard III, in the 15th century, but, according to 16th century historian John Stow, by 1598 it had fallen into disrepair and was used for stabling the king’s horses.
The premises – believed to be located close to what is now Cannon Street, not far from Mansion House Tube Station – was among the buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was not rebuilt.
• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.
• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday.Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.
• Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.
• The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
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One of the lost churches of the City of London, All Hallows Lombard Street once stood on the corner of this famous City street and Ball Alley.
Dating from medieval times, the church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London and, while the parishioners initially tried their own repairs, it was subsequently rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren and completed by 1679.
The result was apparently a rather plan building but it did feature a three storey tower (in fact, so hemmed in by other buildings did it become that some called it the “invisible church”). The church also featured a porch which had come from the dissolved Priory of St John in Clerkenwell and had, from what we can gather, been part of the previous building.
Among those who preached in the rebuilt church was John Wesley in 1789 (he apparently forgot his notes and, after some heckling from the congregation, it’s said he never used notes again).
The parish of St Dionis Backchurch was merged with All Hallows when the latter was demolished in 1878 (All Hallows has already been merged with St Benet Gracechurch when that church was demolished in 1868 and St Leonard Eastcheap in 1876). Bells from St Dionis Backchurch were brought to All Hallows following the merger.
The declining residential population in the City saw the consolidation of churches and following World War I, All Hallows Lombard Street was listed for demolition. There was considerable opposition to the decision but structural defects were found in the building’s fabric and demolition eventually took place in 1937.
But there was to be a second life of sorts for the church. The square, stone tower, including the porch and fittings from the church such as the pulpit, pews, organ and stunning carved altarpiece, were all used in the construction of a new church, All Hallows Twickenham in Chertsey Road.
Designed by architect Robert Atkinson, it was one of a couple of new churches built with proceeds from the sale of the land on which All Hallows Lombard Street had stood.
Replacing an earlier chapel, the new Twickenham church was consecrated on 9th November, 1940 by the Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher (apparently with the sound of anti-aircraft fire in the background).
The 32 metre high tower houses a peal of 10 bells, including some of those from St Dionis Backchurch, as well as an oak framed gate decorated with memento mori carvings – including skulls and crossbones – which came from All Hallows Lombard Street.
This church – not to be confused with the similarly named but still existing St Mary Aldermary – once stood at the corner of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City of London.
Founded in the 11th or early 12th century, the church – the name of which apparently relates to an endowment it received from an Alderman Bury, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in a simple form with no spire.
It was gutted during the Blitz – one of 13 Wren churches hit on the night of 13th December, 1940 – and the ruins were not rebuilt. Instead, in the 1960s (and this is where we get to the relocation part) a plan was put into action to relocate the church so it could form part of a memorial to Winston Churchill in the grounds of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
It was only after four years of planning and fundraising (the project apparently cost some $US1.5 million with the money raised from donors including actor Richard Burton) that the relocation process finally began in 1965.
It started with workers in London cleaning, removing and labelling each of the church’s 7,000 stones so they could be reconstructed correctly on the other side of the Atlantic.
They were shipped free-of-charge – the US Shipping Board moved them as ship’s ballast – and then taken by rail to Fulton.
By the time the stones reached Fulton they had been jumbled. And so began the painstaking process of reassembling what was described as the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in the history of architecture” (with the stones spread over an acre, it apparently took a day just to find the first two stones).
While the first shovel on the project had been turned by former US President Harry S Truman on 19th April, 1964 (his connection to the project will become clear), the foundation stone was laid in October, 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London.
The shell of the church was completed by May, 1967. Two more years of work saw the church’s interior recreated with English woodcarvers, working from pre-war photographs, to make the pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony (new glass was also manufactured and five new bronze bells cast for the tower). The finished church, which was rededicated in May, 1969, was almost an exact replica of the original but apparently for a new organ gallery and a tower window.
Why Fulton for a tribute to Churchill? The connection between Churchill and Westminster College went back to the post war period – it was in the college’s historic gymnasium building that, thanks to a connection the institution had with President Truman, Churchill was to give one of his most famous speeches – the 1946 speech known as ‘Sinews of Peace’ in which he first put forward the concept of an “Iron Curtain” descending between Eastern and Western Europe.
The church is now one part of the National Churchill Museum, which also includes a museum building and the ‘Breakthrough’ sculpture made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall. It was selected for the memorial – planned to mark the 20th anniversary of Churchill’s speech – thanks to its destruction in the Blitz, commemorating in particular the inspiring role Churchill had played in ensuring the British people remained stalwart despite the air raids.
Meanwhile, back in London the site of the church has been turned into a garden. It contains a memorial to John Heminges and Henry Condell, two Shakespearean actors who published the first folio of the Bard’s works and were buried in the former church. The footings upon which the church once stood can still be seen in the garden and have been Grade II-listed since 1972.
Partly located on a site now occupied by the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in central London was a leprosy hospital founded by Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, in 1101.
The site was located outside the City walls making it ideal for such an establishment (given lepers had to isolate from the rest of the population) and the hospital, one of the first such establishments in England, was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of outcasts.
As well as an oratory or chapel, the hospital, initially founded on eight acres of farmland, is believed to have included houses for lepers, a master’s house, and quarters for a chaplain, clerk and servant. A chapter house was added in the early 14th century.
The hospital was under the care of the crown and in 1299, King Edward I ordered that the hospital be run by and its revenues given to the military Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (also known as the Leper Brothers of Jerusalem or Lazarists).
By the 15th century leprosy (now known as Hansen’s disease) was on the decline in England but this hospital continued to be used for lepers until at least 1500 after which it is recorded that it had opened it doors to the poor who needed care.
In 1539, the hospital was closed under King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. While the chapel remained in use as a parish church (it was at this time that “in-the-fields” was added to the church’s name), the hospital’s other buildings were given by King Henry VIII to John Dudley, Lord Lisle (and later Duke of Northumberland and Protector of Edward VI, the king’s eventual heir).
The church, meanwhile, had fallen into a poor state of repair by the early 1600s and was demolished. Construction of a Gothic replacement started in 1623 in a project largely funded by Alice, Duchess Dudley, daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley. The new church was consecrated by William Laud, Bishop of London in 1631. The current building dates from 1733 (but more about that at another time).
Among the buildings destroyed in the Blitz, St Stephen Coleman Street was one of the more than 50 City of London churches designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in the wake of the Great Fire of London of 1666.
The church was located on the corner of Coleman and Gresham Streets and replaced an earlier medieval building, the origins of which date back to at least the 13th century (the earliest mention occurs during the reign of King John) and which had also been known as St Stephen in the Jewry due to the number of Jewish people living in the vicinity.
St Stephen’s had apparently become a Puritan stronghold by the early 17th century when the vicars included John Davenport, who later went on to found a colony in Connecticut.
Five members of Parliament whom King Charles I attempted to arrest on 4th January, 1642, hid here as his troops searched for them. During the Commonwealth, the church instituted rules under which only those who were approved by a committee including the vicar and 13 parishioners – two of whom had apparently signed King Charles I’s death warrant, could receive Communion.
Following its destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, the church was rebuilt its former foundations – the new building incorporating some of the ruins of the former and featuring a bell lantern with a gilded weathervane on top – and was largely completed by 1677. In the early 1690s, additional funds gained through a coal tax provided for the construction of a burial vault and a gallery.
Notable vicars after the rebuild included Rev Josiah Pratt (1768-1844) who served for 21 years as secretary of the Church Missionary Society.
While the church suffered some minor damage during an air-raid in World War I, it was repaired. But it was finally destroyed during an air raid on 29th December, 1940, after which the church was not rebuilt but its parish joined with that of St Margaret Lothbury.
A City of London Corporation plaque at the intersection of Coleman Street and Kings Arms Yard marks the site of the former church.
PICTURE: An etching of St Stephen’s Coleman Street published in 1819.